Mumbai has more than 70 markets, and it's worthwhile to spend a couple of hours exploring at least one, not so much for the shopping as for the human spectacle of it all. Flowers are an intrinsic part of Indian culture, and Bhuleshwar Wholesale Flower Market (CP Tank Circle; dawn-noon) is the best place in the city to witness the Indian romance with color and fragrance. Note that according to Hindu beliefs, if you touch or sniff the flowers, you'll ruin them -- so don't. The name Chor Bazaar (Thieves' Market) (Mutton St., off Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Rd.; Sat-Thurs 11am-7pm) conjures up Arabian Nights' cloak-and-dagger intrigue and visions of precious rings sold with the finger of the former owner still attached, but in reality this is a fun place to rummage through an extravagant assortment of antiques, fakes, and junk and get into the rhythm of that favorite Indian pastime: bargaining. It's also highly likely that -- unless you're an expert on antiques -- you'll end up buying something that might look a few hundred years old, but which was churned out by a talented craftsman just this morning. In short, it's a good idea to browse here, but you'd better be on your toes if you have any plans to leave with a valuable antique.
If you visit only one market, make it Crawford Market (Lokmanya Tilak Marg and Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Rd.; Mon-Sat 11:30am-8pm), Mumbai's quintessential fresh-produce shopping experience, now officially known as Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market. Dating from the 1860s, it combines the traditional Indian bazaar experience with both Norman and Flemish architecture; pay attention to the bas-relief frieze above the main entrance -- it was designed by Rudyard Kipling's father. Admire the colorful pyramids of heavenly mangoes and ripe bananas, but steer clear of the disturbing pet stalls.
Clothing is one of Mumbai's major exports, and at Fashion Street (Mahatma Gandhi Rd., across the road from Bombay Gymkhana), a motley collection of shops and stalls, you will pay a fraction of the prices asked in foreign stores. Much of what is here is surplus stock; other garments have been rejected by quality controllers. Start your haggling at under half the quoted price.
Taxi drivers get nervous when you tell them you want to visit Zaveri Bazaar (jewelry market) (Sheik Memon St.; Mon-Sat 11am-7pm). You'll soon discover why. Shoppers and space-fillers shuffle and push their ways endlessly through narrow gaps in this cluttered, heaving market, and it's often impossible to inch forward by car -- or even on foot. Behind the street stalls and milling masses, glittering jewels are sold from family shops. If the glitzy accessories don't fascinate you, perhaps you'll be drawn to packed Mumbadevi Temple, where the city's namesake deity is housed. Activity around the temple is chaotic, with devotees splurging to prove their devotion to the powerful goddess.
Less familiar to tourists, is Null Bazaar (20 SV Patel Rd.; tel. 022/2346-1008), where you can browse the Bombay Lungi Market for namesake lungies (sarongs made for men, more typically worn in South India) crafted from Madras cotton.
Bewitched by Alphonso -- Along with the unbearable heat, summer brings forth crops of beauteous mangoes, dozens of varieties of which are available only in India. King of them all is unquestionably the Alphonso. You may have eaten mangoes in Mexico, Thailand, or even other parts of India, but until you've sucked on the succulent bright orange pulp of the Alphonso, with its bewitching scent and unimaginably divine flavor, you'll miss a sensory experience like no other. The best Alphonsos originate from Ratnagiri in rural Maharashtra. To make sure you're getting the real thing, ask your hotel to find you one, or -- better still -- explore the fruit section at Mumbai's Crawford Market. Prices start at Rs 1,500 a dozen in March and go down to Rs 120 a dozen when the season peaks in May; the mangoes often need to be kept a day or two to ripen before eating.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.